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Tuesday, 04 August 2020 17:19

Some Workers Sickened by COVID-19 Face an Extra Burden: Proving Where They Got It

Written by John Hill, FairWarning
Daniel Avila Loma, second from right, contracted a fatal case of COVID-19 and his family believes it was while working at a meatpacking plant in Greeley, CO. Daniel Avila Loma, second from right, contracted a fatal case of COVID-19 and his family believes it was while working at a meatpacking plant in Greeley, CO. Photo courtesy of Olivier Avila

Index

COVID-19 sent Sylvia LeRoy, a pregnant nurse working at a Brooklyn hospital in the earliest days of the pandemic, into a tailspin that left her barely responsive in a brain recovery center in Pennsylvania. 

The coronavirus hit the 35-year-old with an array of maladies---from severe muscle spasms to stomach issues and even a dislocated jaw, likely from when she was revived from heart failure---that had to be addressed before the brain center could awaken her from a near-vegetative state. 

 

There was another hurdle as well. LeRoy’s insurance would only cover 60 days at the brain recovery center, not enough time for her to make real progress, her sister Shirley Licin, who is caring for the healthy baby that LeRoy gave birth to while sick, told FairWarning.

 

Nor would her insurance begin to cover the costs of her recovery once she left the center, from a $70,000 vehicle capable of moving her wheelchair to a highly specialized $4,000 shower chair.

 

It seemed obvious to her family that LeRoy got the disease at her workplace, the Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center in Brooklyn, which had been overwhelmed with COVID-19 when the outbreak started.

 

So they did the logical thing---they filed a workers’ compensation claim. 

 

It was denied.

 

Across the U.S., workers like LeRoy face wildly varying rules about whether COVID-19 is covered as a workplace injury. More than a dozen states, including Utah, Michigan and Illinois, have changed their laws or rules since the pandemic, often so that a nurse would be presumed to have contracted the virus at work, leaving it up to the employer to prove that the worker got it someplace else.

 

But even among the states that have created so-called “presumptions,” there are significant differences, with some extending them only to hospital or emergency response workers, while others include all of those whose jobs required them to interact with the public during the pandemic. 

 

Still others, like New York, have not made a change, forcing workers to try to document that they contracted the disease on the job. New York legislators have introduced a couple of bills, one creating a presumption for emergency responders and another that defines COVID-19 as an occupational disease, but they remain bottled up in committees.

 

That leaves workers like LeRoy with the formidable task of trying to prove they contracted the virus on the job. The workers’ comp carrier who denied LeRoy’s claim, GCG Risk Management, did not respond to a request for comment.


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